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Sulfur Water 

“Sulfur water” is primarily due to hydrogen sulfide gas dissolved in water. Hyrdogen sulfide imparts a characteristic “rotten egg” odor to the water. If iron is also present, hydrogen sulfide will readily combine with it to form iron sulfide (black water). Hydrogen sulfide is very corrosive both in water and the air.

Where does hydrogen sulfide come from?

Hydrogen sulfide (H2S) may be present in a water supply as a result of the decomposition of underground organic deposits or the reduction of sulfate ions. Usually, it is caused by certain types of bacteria in the water table which produce hydrogen sulfide from organic matter containing sulfur. When oxygen is absent, hydrogen sulfide will be produced when these organic compounds are broken down by bacteria.

One other common group of bacteria called “sulfate reducing bacteria” produce hydrogen sulfide by chemically reducing sulfates and sulfites. The presence of hydrogen sulfide shows that the water source is conducive to bacterial growth and hence harmful bacteria could conceivably live there.

Difficulties arising from sulfur water

  • Offensive odor and taste. Hydrogen sulfide adds an offensive “rotten egg” taste and odor to the water. Beverages and ice cubes can be adversely affected.
  • Corrosion. Hydrogen sulfide can be costly to eliminate. It is very corrosive and can “eat away” pump parts, piping, tanks, water heaters, fixtures and equipment that has iron, steel or copper alloy.
  • Black water. Hydrogen sulfide combines with iron in water to form iron sulfide (ferrous sulfide) which is black. Only a small amount is required to blacken the water.
Treating sulfur water

Analysis of water samples for hydrogen sulfide is possible, but since it is a volatile gas, a special preservative must be used at the time of sampling. However, the nose is a superior detector, and since the odor threshold is so low that even the tiniest concentrations must be removed, an accurate analysis is usually not needed. The only good remedy is chemical oxidation followed by filtration to remove the elemental sulfur. Activated carbon can remove low levels for a short time, but it is inefficient and has low capacity. New catalytic carbons are an improvement, but a long contact time (slow flow rate) is still needed. Chlorination is the preferred approach because it also disinfects, but oxidizing media such as manganese greensand and granular brass may also work.

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